Elevated mission: mountaineering for charity in Ecuador


Marta Hughes is seen scaling Mount Chimborazo, Equator’s highest peak, to raise money for SOS Children’s Villages, in October 2018. Photo credit: Chimborazo Challenge on Facebook 

Marta Hughes decided to take her volunteering with SOS Children’s Villages out of the boardroom and up Mount Chimborazo, Ecuador’s highest summit.

Marta lives in Luxembourg and works for the European Investment Bank. She is also a board member for the international charity SOS Children’s Villages, which supports struggling families around the world with access to food, medical care and daycare.

In Ecuador, only one child in five grows up in a household free of neglect or abuse. For those unable to stay with their families, SOS Children’s Villages provide a safe environment, emotional assistance and much-needed normality. The NGO also supports the 20% of girls who do not continue on to secondary school, in part due to the high level of teenage pregnancies that force them to drop out.

As a mother herself, these matters are close to Marta’s heart, which inspired her to get more active about fundraising for the charity organisation. She told Delano that as a board member one has oversight over the financial and administrative workings of a charity, but rarely any chances to directly practice advocacy and fundraising.

That’s why in October 2018, she embarked upon the audacious journey of climbing Mount Chimborazo, Ecuador’s highest mountain (6,268m) and “the farthest point on the Earth's surface from the Earth's center”. She encouraged people to support her venture, rendered even more daring by her fear of heights.

To acclimatise to the high altitudes and to the realities of her challenge, she undertook five practise climbs on increasingly high summits. These were trials in their own right, such as Mount Illiniza Norte, the most technical climb of all. “Very few things can match the exhilaration of that particular moment. The biggest challenge is generally the most rewarding,” she said.

During the entire time, Marta was accompanied by Juliana Garcia, the first female internationally certified mountain guide in South America, and photojournalist Simon Sticker, a mountaineering enthusiast who has worked with NGOs in the past.

A picture taken during Marta Hughes’ fundraising ascent of Mount Chimborazo in October 2018. Photo credit: Marta Hughes
A picture taken during Marta Hughes’ fundraising ascent of Mount Chimborazo in October 2018. Photo credit: Marta Hughes

Marta said the Chimborazo and shorter climbs have taught her valuable lessons. “The whole experience tests your stamina, your patience and pushes you to the limit. Certain situations in your day-to-day life require you to keep pushing, to keep showing up. Once you have climbed a mountain, you understand the importance to keep putting one foot in front of the other.”

She intends to integrate this persistence and dedication into her personal and professional life, hoping that it will help her grow as an advocate for charity and as a person. She maintained that it is a particularly valuable experience for board members of any kind because seeing the results of your own fundraising initiative first-hand is “both powerful and humbling.” A corporate member willing to go through such a challenging experience for the benefit of the cause also sends a strong message to everyone involved with the organisation, in her view.

Delano asked Marta if she would do it again. Her answer: “My heart says ‘definitely’, my head says ‘surely you must be joking’!” Before she can set out on a new fundraising adventure, she first has to ascent the symbolic mountains at home and at work, but “at least down here it is rarely a question of life and death.”

A documentary film about Marta Hughes’s journey will be released later this month and she is available to talk to companies and schools about her experience. For more, check out her video on YouTube or the project’s Facebook page.